Aspects of canine sports medicine


The constant development of canine sports, continually rising working dog populations and particularly the ever increasing number and standard of competitions has led to the emergence of dedicated canine sports medicine to address the problems posed by a very specific sporting pathology.

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A specific pathology

The integrity of the musculoskeletal system is clearly essential in sporting and working dogs. A limp is a sign of pain and adversely affects performance. It may be caused by problems with the footpads or the spaces between the toes, which are the only places where dogs sweat. Such problems, which are very familiar to hunters and mushers, can be prevented by hardening the footpads with a spray and applying grease (a mix of lanoline and pine tar) or better still a balm of hyperoxygenated fatty acids (with strong anti-inflammatory properties) in between the toes. In some cases, as for sled dogs, protective boots are highly recommended.

Dozens of bone, joint, tendon and ligament problems are specific to different sports. Like humans, dogs suffer from common problems such as sprains, dislocations and fractures. Similarly, active muscles can suffer from simple contractures, strains, pulls and tears or inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis and myositis. Sophisticated diagnostic methods such as ultrasounds and thermograms (pictures produced by a thermal camera which visualises hot and cold areas) ensure that the best treatments and therapies can be identified. Physiotherapy is also used during rehab.

Prevention is a major goal in this field of canine traumatology. This demands a number of safeguards:

- It is important to have a regular, properly conceived physical training programme to bring the dog to peak sporting potential during the competition season.

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Dedicated international veterinary association for sled dogs

The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA) is a professional veterinary organisation with more than 400 members on five continents, from countries as far apart as New Zealand and Greenland, Japan and South Africa. ISDVMA was founded in 1991 to actively promote and encourage actions contributing to the well-being and good health of sled dogs and to conduct scientific research to improve our understanding of these extraordinary dogs. ISDVMA holds an annual conference and meetings throughout the globe to share the latest scientific advances with veterinarians.

It also publishes a journal and other publications to keep the dialogue going. The ISDVMA database of all scientific and technical publications relating to sled dogs is updated annually. ISDVMA also runs courses to teach mushers about their dogs and provides international federations and organisations with specialist veterinarians to oversee some 4,500 sled dog races across the world every year. ISDVMA awards study and research scholarships to many veterinary students.

Professor Jerome A. Vanek
University of Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota,

The dog needs to learn how to move its body flexibly to perform a given task. The dog must be used to working or competing in various environments so that it can position its feet optimally.

- The dog needs to warm up before training sessions and competitions and warm down afterwards.

- Water must be always available to prevent even minimal muscle dehydration, which will be harmful.

- The food must be perfectly adapted to the type of effort, and the feeding amount must maintain the dog at its healthy weight.

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2009 Licancabur scientific expedition

The aim of the expedition to the summit of the 19,000 ft (5,980m) Licancabur volcano in northern Chile in April 1996 was to study the biological and nutritional effects on SAR dogs working at high altitudes, where oxygen is less plentiful and atmospheric pressure is higher. Dogs are often used to save human lives in the event of earthquakes, landslides at high altitudes (Andes, Asia) or avalanches. In these situations neither dogs nor humans have time to acclimatise before they get to work.

Dog teams from the Paris Fire Department and Chilean Riflemen took part in a field exercise to better prepare them for work in these difficult conditions without suffering from the effects of altitude sickness. Without acclimatisation, they were given the task of searching for victims buried in the Inca ruins alongside the vents of the Licancabur volcano. The expedition findings clearly showed the importance of optimal nutritional preparation for the dogs, based on the consumption of a high energy, high protein, complete dry food.

This was supplemented with antioxidant vitamins (E and C) and omega 3 essential fatty acids (fish oil). A similar comparative study was also conducted among the humans, and subsequent expeditions of this type will be undertaken in association with the UMES at ENVA and the Royal Canin Research Centre.

Doctor Fathi Driss
University hospital centre Bichat-Paris

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Emergence of canine medicine


Canine sports are growing in stature all the time. Some are even knocking on the door in terms of inclusion in the Olympic Games (pulka and sled pulling would appear the most logical choices, given that dog and handler need to work together in these sports). Others are a great way to teach children and train dogs as part of a game (as in agility) or to celebrate the ancestral qualities of certain breeds, such as sheepdogs.

As the popularity and professionalism of these sports rise, so too does the number of sporting dogs. The National Veterinary College of Alfort (ENVA), France, organised the first all-day conference on canine sports medicine back in 1985, a direct consequence of which was the formation at ENVA of UMES, whose canine sports medicine unit is one of only three in the world. (The other two are at Auburn University and the University of Florida, both in the United States). The unit, which welcomes outpatients three times a week, has physio and occupational therapy facilities and a research laboratory working on the physiopathology of lipids and free radicals to study the biological and cellular effects of physical effort in dogs. UMES veterinarians attend many dog sports competitions, including international ones, in an official capacity.

Since its emergence just a few short years ago, canine sports medicine has slowly but surely become a recognised specialisation, as demand grows among users, covering everything from training and preparation to pathologies and doping.

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Aspects of canine sports medicine
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